Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Daytona Beach Labor Day Weekend

We hadn’t planned to go out of town for Labor Day. The weekend cruises were either booked up or too expensive, and we didn’t want to spend a lot of money. But at the last minute, we decided we needed to go somewhere. Orlando? Apalachicola? Daytona Beach? Yes, Daytona! We hadn’t been there in AGES.

We left Saturday morning and got to Daytona at 10:30, just in time for the 11 o’clock All Access Tour at the Daytona International Speedway. Ron had been to the speedway several times for car shows but I’d never seen it and I thought it would be interesting to see what it was like behind the scenes.

The tour lasted about an hour and a half and we got to see many areas of the property, riding from place to place in trams towed by our tour guide in a truck. Our first stop was on an access road overlooking the incredible 31-degree angle of the track at Turn 4 (31 degrees because at 32 degrees, the dirt starts to slide down). Then we drove onto the track itself. As we entered the raceway, I could almost feel the adrenaline and excitement of the drivers. We stopped at the checkered Start/Finish line where we all attempted to walk up the 18-degree track. It was a lot steeper than it looked! Next we had souvenir pictures taken at Victory Lane and visited the Drivers Meeting Room, where the teams meet for safety briefings and instructions before each race. Our final stop was inside the stadium itself, which is undergoing a $400-million renovation called Daytona Rising. When the project is finished, the stadium will have 101,500 new, wider seats, 14 escalators, and most importantly, twice as many women’s bathrooms. :-)

Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway

Start/Finish Line

Ron trying to stand straight
It's a lot steeper than it looks

Daytona International Speedway track

speedway stands

souvenir photo
souvenir photo

After the tour was over, we went to lunch at a place Ron had read about on Yelp, the Daytona Taproom. I don’t drink beer but the burgers sounded awesome. Since it was lunchtime, the restaurant only had one bartender/waiter, two cooks at the grill behind the bar and a sour-faced manager who never acknowledged anyone or offered to refill drinks despite the fact that the poor bartender was running all over the place. Seriously, some people should just not work with the public. The food, however, was really amazing. Ron had the Black and Bleu burger and I ordered the Tijuana Peso Girl burger, a towering half-pound burger topped with fried jalapenos, sriracha mayo and pepperjack cheese. Yum!!

Daytona Taproom

Black and Bleu burger

Then it was on to our hotel. We were staying at the Hampton Inn Daytona Beach/Beachfront on North Atlantic Avenue, about a mile north of the Ocean Walk Village. Ron and I like Hampton Inns because of their comfortable beds and dependable quality, but this hotel was especially good. It was only about two years old and had lots of extra touches, like a night light in the bathroom, real scrambled eggs at breakfast, a box of beach toys for the kids and even a DJ playing music by the pool in the afternoons. The front desk clerks always greeted us as we went by. You could tell this hotel was really trying hard to go the extra mile.

The skies had started to look ominous during our speedway tour and by the time we got settled into the hotel, it was drizzling rain. We waited out the weather on our balcony, reading and chilling. Around 5 o’clock, it cleared up a little so we decided to drive down to Ponce Inlet to see the lighthouse. I’d found out before the trip that the lighthouse now stays open until 9 o’clock during the summer and I thought it would be neat to watch the sunset from the tower. Unfortunately, with all the clouds it didn’t look like it was going to be much of a sunset. So we took a walk around Lighthouse Point Park instead and then climbed the tower while it was still light enough to get some good views. I love the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. It is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest in the US, after Cape Hatteras. It is one of the prettiest lighthouses too, made of red brick with gray granite trim. We’d been to the lighthouse twice before so we didn’t explore the museum and lighthouse keepers’ cottages this time, just headed up the 203 steps to the gallery. Even with the clouds, the views from the top were spectacular.

Lighthouse Point Park

Ponce Inlet


Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

lighthouse door

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse tower

view of jetty from lighthouse

view on inlet from lighthouse


lighthouse at dusk

For dinner, we ate at the Hidden Treasure Bar and Grill in Ponce Inlet, which turned out to be neither hidden (it was bright orange) nor a treasure. The food was so-so and my cocktail was so bad I couldn’t even drink it. It tasted like syrup with sweet and sour mix. Then when we asked for our check, our waitress disappeared for 15 minutes while we got eaten up by mosquitoes. We couldn’t wait to get out of there!

After we got back to the hotel, we decided to take a walk down to the main strip to see what was going on. It was a long walk and by the time we got to the Ocean Walk Shoppes, I was ready for some ice cream. Lo and behold, there was a Coldstone Creamery! Everyone else must have wanted ice cream too because the line was all the way out the door. So I stood in line while Ron went in search of beer. Twenty minutes later, I finally had my ice cream. An Elton John tribute concert at the bandstand had just wrapped up but there were fireworks going off at the pier. Ron and I stood and watched the fireworks while “God Bless the USA” played from the bandstand speakers. Neat!

When the fireworks were over, we wandered down the boardwalk to the pier. Daytona Beach is very nostalgic for me. Not just because the historic boardwalk was built in the 1930’s and still has the old-fashioned carnival rides and games, but also because Ron and I used to come here in the summers when we were first dating. There’s a song by Kenny Chesney called “Anything But Mine” that reminds me so much of Daytona Beach.
Walking alone beneath the lights of that miracle mile,
Me and Mary making our way into the night,
You can hear the cries from the carnival rides,
The pinball bills, the skee ball slides,
Watching the summer sun fall out of sight,
There's a warm wind coming in from off of the ocean
Making its way past the hotel walls to fill the streets
Mary is holding both of her shoes in her hands
Said she likes to feel the sand beneath her feet.
Ahh, those sweet summer days of youth…

At breakfast the next morning, there was a brief, heavy rain storm but fortunately, it moved off to the south, and the rest of the day was hot and sunny. Our plan for the day was to partake in one of the most iconic Daytona activities – driving on the beach. A $10 pass allows you a full day of driving and parking on the beach, including one reentry. The speed limit is 10 miles an hour and we were very careful to drive slowly, but almost as soon as we pulled onto the beach, lights flashed behind us. What did we do wrong?? The beach patrol officer came up to the window and explained that we had to have our headlights on and windows down, but he let us go with a warning. Oops! 

We drove north first to Ormond Beach then exited the beach and got back on again just south of the pier, where we parked the truck and had lunch at the Ocean Deck, one of the few (the only?) restaurants actually on the beach. It was a cute restaurant, decorated in a nautical-slash-Jamaican theme. We shared the fish dip and a Philly cheese sandwich and I enjoyed a mojito. Finally, a decent drink.:-)  Then we took a walk out on the pier before continuing our drive south down to the El Caribe, where Mama and Daddy used to stay. For car-lovers, Daytona Beach is definitely the place to see and be seen. I think Ron was pleased with all the waves and compliments he got on his truck.

Hampton Inn Daytona Beach
the Hampton Inn
north Daytona Beach



driving on Daytona Beach
driving on the beach

Ron and his truck

cars on beach

Daytona Beach pier
Main Street Pier

view of Daytona Beach from pier

When we got back to the hotel, we put on our bathing suits and played in the ocean until it was time to get ready for dinner. We had no idea where to eat so we ended up back at the Daytona Taproom. This time Mr. Sourpuss wasn’t there and the bar staff seemed a lot more relaxed. I didn’t want another burger so I ordered the Porkzilla Waffle, BBQ pork piled between two cornbread jalapeno waffles. Oh my gosh, it was so good. I don’t know who came up with their menu, but it was really different and delicious. Since we’d been up so late (for us) the night before, Ron and I were both really tired and fell asleep almost as soon as we got back to our room.

In the morning, I woke up early and it was still dark outside. I pulled on some clothes, picked up a cup of coffee from the lobby and went out to the beach to watch the sun rise. Since the beach we went to in Korea was on the west coast and now I live on the west coast of Florida, sunsets on the east coast always seem wrong to me. The sun is supposed to set over the water! :-)  But a sunrise over the water can be pretty nice too.

sunrise on Daytona Beach

sunrise and waves

sunrise and bird


After another Hampton Inn breakfast, we packed up the truck and headed home. Time to get back to our labors.

1 comment:

  1. Those pictures standing on the track are so cute! I've seen some funny pictures taken on the San Francisco hills like that. And I like that Kenny Chesney song too :)